In a study of 20 popular health sites, seven were found to share search information to third parties such as marketers and manufacturers, which could come back to haunt users, experts said.

Don’t assume you are anonymous when searching for information on sensitive health topics online, experts say. Some health media websites share users’ search terms with outside companies that track consumers and target advertising, according to a new study.

Dr. Marco Huesch, from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, used interception software and found seven out of 20 popular health sites passed search information to third parties.

The study could not show whether the search data were used for more than targeting advertisements. But Huesch pointed out that consumer information “has a lot of value” to marketers and manufacturers.

“These things aren’t done for free. The people that invest in this third party data are sophisticated technology companies,” he told Reuters Health.

“At the end of the day, these tools are being used in ways that are pretty unsavory and creepy.” For example, he said, an insurance company could use search data to discriminate by not advertising offers to someone who has searched for information on depression.

 Source: NY Daily News

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